A Surgery Companion

Why did the chicken cross the road?………………………To get to the other side. When you think about that small chicken trying to get past all those huge flying trucks on the highway. Well that is how it is for many mesh injured women to get out to UCLA. The obstacles are horrendous and constant. But chickens fight hard and so do we, the mesh injured. Somehow we make it to the other side, often against all the odds.

This morning I thought about all the women who have struggled to get out to UCLA barring obstacles, such as money, fighting insurances and often family members so that they can make their way to a place that offers them a chance at a new life. No it is far from easy. They don’t do it because they ate brave or strong. They fight the hard battle in hopes they will have a more normal life again. I was thinking about it today because of a note I received from Pam who just found out a friend cannot go out with her for her surgery less than two weeks from now. As far as she was concerned everything was set. Everything was arranged and now she had another blow which had been one of many for this woman. Problems arise because she has to stay out there eleven days for tests, surgery and recovery and yes eleven days away is a lot to ask of anyone and friendships are at risk when we ask someone to go with us. She told me that her son has to work to pay the bills or of course no roof over their head although he wanted to go. Even though this was a hard blow she was trying to figure out what to do and asked me for any suggestions because right now her priority is for her to get well or everything will be lost. She fought for months for this surgery and now says she will NEVER cancel even if it means going alone.

I hope she does not have to go alone, but just in case, I want her and any other woman who has to do this alone, to know that I feel for them whole heartedly. It should not be this way of course, but we do what we have to, to save our own lives. I truly wish there was an organization on that end that would provide someone to see that women got to the hospital the morning of surgery and then helped them when they leave. There are of course nurses, who would be paid for this, but we all know just the expenses for these trips tap us dry and no more funds are available. So if you are one of these women, I want you to know I know you can make it alone IF you have to.

She then asked me what the hardest part of my trip was and I told her the hardest part is at the airport in Los Angeles after surgery when you are ready to go home. Wheelchairs should never be taken away from people who need them but they are. If they don’t have enough I wish they would ask a nonprofit organization to run a fund drive to provide more. I experienced this problem when I travelled alone this last time and will address it in my letter o the people who need to know about the issues I wound up facing hen the flights were cancelled. Please ladies do not be afraid to ask other passengers to notify the airline attendants who open up to allow boarding, that you are alone and if walking will cause you pain, tell them you need wheelchair help to board. This is not a time to be too brave. If you can’t find anyone to notify the attendants, then shout if you have to, to get noticed. DON’T try to pick up luggage after surgery because we are not supposed to pick up any more than ten pounds for a few weeks. Some women have extensive reconstruction at time of removal and you have to take care of yourself for a long time so that you don’t undo what was done.

She also asked me if there were things I could not do for myself after surgery. Once again, lifting was a major problem and getting food in another. I worked at solving mine before surgery by setting my empty suitcase on top of a wheelchair ready to pack when the time came. When packing I did not have to bend down and I wheeled it out to the shuttle bus driver and let him lift it. Before surgery I shopped at the local grocery store for food I could eat with little worry about planning too much. My biggest problem was the small refrigerator that was on the floor at the hotel. So I could not put small stuff down in the bottom because of bending after surgery, which meant I did not have a lot of space to store cold food. I have also written a blog with where you can order food from local take-away restaurants which I had planned on but then got really sick after surgery and nothing appealed to me. So food is an issue which can be got around. The Tiverton Hotel has breakfast but after two and a half weeks of the same thing, it got really old for me.

As for needing any help to get in and out of bed, well they are not going to let you out of hospital if they don’t think you can handle it. Therefore, that is not an issue and you just need to get up slowly and be careful. You can’t lie in bed all the time, but you can’t go crazy either. Walks around the block are not a good idea too soon. I found a slow walk down to the Tiverton lobby to make a cup of tea and then take it back to my room kept my circulation going and made me feel better.

When it comes to showering, if you have any incisions you may not be allowed to shower the first day or so. Ask before you leave the hospital how to care for your wounds and when you can shower. The Tiverton is a nonprofit Hotel run by UCLA and everything is set u for patients such as plenty of handle bars to get in and out of the tub and on and off the toilet. You should not have any issues with bathing. Remember, they won’t let you out of hospital until they see you are stable so don’t worry.

So now if you can’t find a surgery companion, then you may have to think outside the box. How about a retired neighbor or friend? Retirement does allow some freedom when it comes to length of stay. You should also consider asking a son to go if you don’t have a female close to you. I recently met a woman out there who had both sons with her and she made me laugh when she said it was time they learned to be men and help her. She was right of course and it worked out perfectly. I understand these surgeries are very personal in origin but there are two beds and a bathroom with closed door. The most they may see is the catheter bag beside your bed. No big deal! You should also consider that your sons may be richer by this experience and more compassionate when it comes to their future partners.

So if you have any setbacks don’t give up and cancel your surgery. If you have to go it alone, then the UCLA shuttle bus will take you back and forth to the hospital and the Ronald Regan Center. When you are wheel chaired down to the lobby they will call the bus to collect you. There is a wheelchair device to put your wheelchair on the bus if you are not ready to walk much because of pain the bus driver will then unload you and push you up the ramp of the hotel. You can then ask for help to be pushed down to you room. You should also consider opening up to people who are staying at the Tiverton before you have surgery. Some are there for awhile and you will see them often. Try smiling and starting a simple conversation. I met many people there during my stay that offered me help. Don’t be too proud and turn them down. I know how hard it is to accept help because we are used to being independent, but we all need help sometimes.

I do know another woman who has been through removal at UCLA and she offered a fellow Canadian the help to go with her. This is invaluable because she knows the ropes. So if you can spare the time away from home and you feel compassion for someone else who is going to have surgery, please offer. Often money is not the only issue. True friendship is so hard to find.

I hope this blog has helped you get through the hurdles and worries of surgery so far away from home. I have done it three times in the last nine months and I survived it all. You will too and you deserve to get well. I wish you a good journey.

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